#479 A people’s revolution in Detroit

Elmhurst home gardener

Photo of gardener at Elmhurst Home by Urban Roots Film

With a population that dropped by 25% in the first decade of the new millennium, Detroit is a graphic example of the growing gap between rich and poor. As the automotive industry struggled, the community collapsed. Plants closed. Neighbourhoods crumbled, and decay set in.

Kevin Boyle’s Requim: Detroit and the Fate of Urban America sets the decline into a larger context. I witnessed slices of the story when I lived in major cities in three different states: white flight, crumbling of industries that provided jobs, high unemployment, poverty and despair.

Detroit’s fortunes fell so precipitously that it is easy to see the city as not only down but irretrievably out. Urban Roots, a documentary from Tree Media, counters that bleak vision with the story of a people’s revolution that is gradually transforming some of the hardest hit neighbourhoods.

The film’s subtitles says it best, “When everything collapses, plant your field of dreams.” The people who appear in Urban Roots have been forgotten by the country’s elite, forgotten even by the government of their own city. But they are rising through their own initiative.

The trailer below shows streets that look like a combination of ghost town and war zone. It also shows some of the people who are reclaiming and repurposing abandoned structures and vacant lots. Watch this documentary, and you’ll see a lot of reasons for hope, including:

While the film celebrates the inspiring resilience, dreams and hard work of many city residents, it also comes with a warning: The city does not support urban farming and is just waiting for the tide to turn and developers with money to knock on the door. When that happens, Mayor Dennis Archer says he will welcome the Wal-Marts and golf courses that boot out the people working so hard to “turn Mo-Town into Grow Town”.

Including these intrepid Detroit farmers as reasons for hope may seem counterintuitive. After all, those with money and power are just waiting to squash their hopes like bugs on a tomato plant.

What gives me hope is the spirit of a handful of Detroit residents who are not waiting for a dismissive bureaucracy to acknowledge their needs and act on them. In the word used frequently in the film, these people are looking for “self-determination”, something we all need.

Gloria Steinem calls her self a “hopeaholic”. The gardeners and growers and community organizers in Detroit are the kind of people who keep our hope alive.

Connect with the film on Twitter and Facebook.

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